Tax Cut Hint A Further Sign Of A Shambolic Budget Sell

THE ALLURE OF TAX CUTS — apparently being dangled by Coalition figures in sections of the press — provides more evidence (were it needed) of a directionless, ham-fisted and shambolic sales and marketing effort on the federal budget; already badly damaged by a poorly received budget which opponents have successfully branded as worse than it is, the hint of tax cuts to come now presents as a travesty of competence, or as desperation.

So which is it?

I guess someone on my side of the political fence has to point these things out, and it might as well be me; readers will know how angry I have been about some elements of the Abbott government’s first budget, notwithstanding the fact I nonetheless think its overall direction is generally sound.

But whether readers, other Coalition figures (or the people in Tony Abbott’s office who really run this government) agree or not that re-indexing fuel excise is an obscene breach of faith with Liberal voters in abandoning a compact struck with them by a Liberal government, or that a so-called “deficit levy” sends an appalling signal that the Coalition is as ready to plunder anyone earning more than the average wage as Labor and the Communist Party Greens are, one thing nobody can really refute is the fact that Treasurer Joe Hockey’s maiden budget has been the most appallingly sold since the infamous 1993 effort of the Keating government.

Coming after six budgets tabled by Wayne Swan, that is an extraordinary achievement, and nothing to be proud of.

I think I should level with readers about something: after the election of the Abbott government — and with a big project I’d been working on in my media business going nowhere — I put my hand up to serve in an advisory capacity to the government, but was rejected without so much as a telephone conversation by the central vetting operation conducted by Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, and the Liberals’ “Mr Fixit” of the past decade (and now state director of the party in NSW), Tony Nutt.

Fair enough: after all, it’s their game; they knew the kind of people they wanted reporting to them, and I’ve revisited my business interests since then. And I still get accused of blind bias and favouring the Liberal Party too often for anyone to simultaneously accuse me of indulging in pointless dummy spitting. But the episode drastically hardened my resolve to call things as I see them, and blessed with the skills in sales, marketing and communications that are so obviously defective in whoever it was that got the government roles, I think I’m more than entitled to speak my mind.

Anyway, enough of the disclosure — let’s get back into it.

And I will ask people to bear with me as I lay out the case tonight; it is (and was) something of a process to background why this latest piece of insanity will do nothing to help the government despite whatever good intentions that might underpin it.

The Fairfax press is carrying a leading article today that quotes “sources and senior government figures” — typically, on condition of anonymity — suggesting that voters will be offered tax cuts in the runup to the 2016 election; that not only were these always going to happen in 2018-19, but that an additional tranche of tax cuts could be offered in the 2016 budget as an easing of the austerity measures being implemented now to provide voters with some relief once the heavy lifting has largely been done.

If this story is true, it closes the circle on the 2014 federal budget as one of the most poorly crafted, ill-directed and abominably sold political efforts of recent times, and in decades by a conservative government.

I think everyone (including the advisory bloc inside the government) now agrees — to varying degrees of public acknowledgement — that Prime Minister Tony Abbott needlessly boxed himself in prior to last year’s election, with excessive promises about what would be insulated from spending cuts when the election was as good as in the bag.

The Liberals’ election win was still as good as wrought in stone after Kevin Rudd was restored to the Labor leadership: the messiah the polls suggested would rescue the ALP proved a red herring within weeks of his return, as forecast in this column months earlier, and indeed Rudd himself probably sealed Labor’s fate with a series of measures aimed at making it look competent (the car industry, for example, is a case in point).

Be that as it may, I have consistently argued that despite the qualifications and unnecessary promises to spare the knife, Abbott was nonetheless elected with a mandate to fix the budget, and to do it by cutting profligate Labor spending. Until a month or so prior to the May budget, the only voices disputing this contention publicly were Labor voices.

Yet as the budget drew closer, all sorts of nasties were allowed to circulate in a ridiculous and overblown exercise in kite flying; readers know I was supportive of the co-payment idea of Medicare visits for a long time — especially when it was pitched as a $5 fee to see a GP.

But the $5 co-payment became $7; overnight, it extended beyond bulk-billed GP visits to scans, pathology and hospital emergency department services; and having received a neutral reaction when it was first floated, the reality that emerged was far harsher than the basic premise the Coalition had experienced a (surprisingly) benign initial response to.

Conversely, the “deficit tax” was allowed to circulate for weeks with an income threshold hanging off the idea of just $80,000 per annum; the fact it is now slated only to apply to those earning $180,000 or more matters nought. The signal has been sent: not only will the party of low taxes impose new and higher taxes, but the notion of a Liberal government actively targeting its middle-earner heartland was permitted to circulate, without refutation, for too long.

The fact it was canvassed at all will send a shudder down the spines of some loyal Liberal voters, who must surely wonder whether they’re next if the budget fails to achieve its objectives.

Of course, other putative nasties that materialised in the budget, on cue, were afforded similar kamikaze opportunities to crash into the government on their way back down.

And I maintain that things that should have been abolished altogether or slashed beyond recognition — the National Disability Insurance Scheme and its eventual $22 billion annual price tag first and foremost — were left untouched purely because increasing taxes is the squib’s option when alienating a vocal lobby is seen as an unpalatable path to take.

Well, guess what? Despite any merit the NDIS might have, it is completely unaffordable, almost completely uncosted, and whilst this is going to sound nasty and isn’t intended to, the disability welfare lobby doesn’t vote Liberal and never will.

So much for taking the soft option: those who would never support the government in a pink fit were given comparatively little to get angry about, whilst the bulk of its own base was explicitly targeted. What a brilliant political strategy!

Still, there has been an enormous amount of disinformation, mischief-making and sheer bloody-minded lying about the government’s budget by Labor, the Greens, the unions, and virtually every self-interested group with an axe to grind and/or a snout in the trough. The government and its media unit has to date proven unwilling — or unable — to effectively refute them.

Which is a surprise to some extent, because one of the pieces I have published in the aftermath of the budget focused in part on Joe Hockey’s appearance on the ABC’s QandA programme; you could see the Left-skewed audience was sceptical, and it’s a credit that Hockey fronted it. But so assured were these people that the pronouncements of Labor et al on the budget were honest, factual and correct, it was written all over their faces throughout the programme that whilst Hockey’s answers to their questions were obviously what they wanted to hear, they didn’t believe him — because what they’d heard from someone else first was more convincing.

Here, of course, we’ve been talking about the budget for the past month; defending large portions of it and lambasting others, but with the overriding message that Labor’s financial management mess — and the growing mountain of debt left behind — simply had to be addressed. Readers can go back through the archive section of the site for May and late April if they missed any of those pieces.

But there hasn’t even been a co-ordinated attempt from the government to slap down Labor’s latest exercise in self-absolution; its viral marketing campaign — suggesting it was a “low tax, low spending, low debt government” has hit my social media inboxes at least half a dozen times in the past fortnight alone. What do the Liberals send out? A centrally generated email from “Tony Abbott” or “Joe Hockey” which is all blather, and that if I wasn’t a member of the party, I wouldn’t even see.

The hard cost to date of the budget has been a crumbling of the government’s numbers in reputable opinion polling. This may or may not be a temporary blip; time will tell, and whilst the Prime Minister’s office and its lieutenants will probably disagree, the fact certain items were included in the budget at all — those that targeted the core Liberal vote and, indeed, appeared almost deliberately designed to enrage it — makes the prospect of recovering support in time to win an election in 2016 exponentially more difficult than a “horror budget,” considered at face value as a concept, might otherwise have made it.

Now, here come the tax cuts.

According to the brave and sage figures within the government who dare not speak their names, tax cuts were always part of the plan; “quietly factored into the budget papers from 2018-19” is how Fairfax describes them.

The point ought to be leaping off the screen at this juncture: why quietly hide the goodies away from view? Why weren’t eventual tax cuts on the table at the very commencement of the budget process? Certainly, there was no attention drawn to them. Nothing definite. Nothing tangible. I think the vague reference to tax cuts in several years’ time was in fact made, but you don’t leave the key selling points out of your main pitch to chase the prospect down with after the presentation, when he/she has already gone cold, as a virtual afterthought.

The fact this is being raised now — indeed, with the promise of early delivery in time (surprise, surprise) for an election campaign — invites one of two responses.

One, that this budget really has been so badly managed and sold that the government and its advisers can’t even shine a light on the more positive aspects of its plan; the reason I have walked readers through the entire process of the past couple of months is because, taken as a whole and viewed as a sales and marketing exercise that is very much incumbent upon governments to engage in, the entire process has been shambolic, poorly contrived, and an appalling textbook example of how not to sell something. One could charitably describe it as a complete cock-up.

And two, that tax cuts are now being discussed at all simply indicates the Liberals are desperate, struggling, and frightened, and that fearing the electoral consequences of their efforts to date, a fat bag of bribes is being readied to slam down on the table for voters’ perusal.

Yet just like everything else about the Abbott budget, the whole tax cut scenario that Fairfax has fired the starter’s gun on carries a very big risk: that most voters will arrive at the conclusion that both of those responses are true and, repulsed, the damage already showing up in the Coalition’s numbers will simply be compounded.

None of this was necessary. The discussion we are having over this shouldn’t have had to occur. A budget campaign from the outset — despite the limitations Abbott placed on himself and a Liberal government — could have talked about sacrifice and reward in equal measure; quantified the short-term nature of the worst of the austerity measures; and actually targeted those measures to areas that were far less explosive in terms of its own political bedrock.

And that’s before we even begin to talk about how the budget should have been sold. A subject for another day perhaps, despite the fact that time (and opportunity) have already been well and truly lost in that regard.

But one thing readers can be sure about is the fact that for tax cuts to be floated around the place just a fortnight after the budget was delivered, some of those people recruited to Coalition ministerial offices are now very, very worried. And that, too, need never have happened.



CITIC And Clive Palmer: An Interesting Read

WITH POLITICS COMES publicity, and with publicity comes scrutiny; Clive Palmer is certainly fond of the former, but there is ample and growing evidence that when it comes to being put under the microscope, he’s not such a fan of the attention it brings. Today we look at an interesting piece through the eyes of one of Palmer’s sometime Chinese business partners, and whatever else this story might be, it’s anything but boring.

One of the aspects of publishing this blog that I do find frustrating is the lack of resources such an undertaking sometimes entails, and whilst I possess some training in journalism (but not graduate qualifications, to be clear) the investigative research and attention to detail that I would often like to incorporate into this activity is often subsumed by the workload my primary business activities — which are unrelated to journalism completely — entails. As readers know, this column is something I do in my spare time for the love of the conversation about politics.

Every once in a while, therefore, an investigative piece comes to hand that I like to share, as one article from the Murdoch press has this morning; it involves mining baron and federal MP Clive Palmer, and documents some of the raft of inconsistencies in the self-promoting stories Palmer tells of himself: some of them already well-known and in the public domain, others — such as Palmer’s claim that his father sat him on Mao Zedong’s knee as a boy — that will probably comes as news to most people who read it.

The article — written by Paul Toohey and appearing in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph today — can be accessed here, and I am grateful to acknowledge the leg work that has been put into compiling such an interesting chronicle of the interesting stories with which Palmer gives account of himself — and the observations in response from those who probably know the man better than anyone who has cast a vote for him.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there is a very heavy (but by no means exclusive) skew toward Palmer’s business dealings in China to all of this, with the claim by Dongyi Hua — the former head of Citic Pacific Australia, the local division of the state-run Chinese mineral enterprise Palmer is in legal dispute with — that Palmer faces arrest and interrogation by authorities if he sets foot in the Communist country near the top of the list.

It makes for an interesting read, certainly, and I encourage all readers with an interest in the self-styled future Prime Minister to take the time to peruse it.

Toohey’s piece — which has clearly been painstakingly researched — carries direct quotations from figures in government and business in Australia, China and Papua New Guinea, and whilst listing all of the episodes it covers out and discussing them at length would be counter-intuitive, a couple of them stand out — for rather obvious reasons.

Such as the claim Palmer’s “Titanic II” project — announced with such fanfare in what increasingly seems to have been a tactic to elicit press coverage — is unlikely to ever proceed due to a lack of interest on the part of Chinese investors in doing business with him.

Or the assertion from WA Premier Colin Barnett that the Chinese “hate Clive Palmer” — a contention that certainly finds support among the claims and refutations contained in the article, and tends to cast a shadow over the image Palmer likes to portray as a businessman inextricably hooked into the booming, burgeoning Chinese market and its insatiable appetite for Australian mineral resources.

I wanted to share this article with readers partly as a follow-on to yesterday’s article dealing with Palmer’s approach to parliamentary entitlements, but mostly because it reinforces yet again a pattern that appears to be increasingly clear: that is, that behind all the bluster, grandiose claims and bellicose self-aggrandisement lie realities that simply don’t withstand scrutiny.

Or — as Toohey quotes Hua’s rather blunt assessment — that “(Palmer) tells lots of stories and after one second he’s forgotten about it.”

One aspect of the Toohey piece that fails to surprise is the revelation of a recorded conversation between Palmer and Hua, in which Palmer suggested the CITIC chairman could “stick it up his arse” and that “I’ve had enough of you so just pack up all your fucking gear and get back to China.”

It tends to conjure up memories (as we touched on yesterday) of the staffing issues at Palmer’s resort in Coolum that he sought to hush up last year, and certainly of the episode in which he is said to have abused a diner in one of its restaurants that attracted publicity both here in Australia and internationally.

And one other issue the story touches on involves the matter of a “missing” $12 million of CITIC monies that the Chinese firm alleges was used to bankroll his election campaign last year, and which is currently the subject of court proceedings, and whilst this column makes no assumptions on where the money might be (or whether it is even “missing” at all), this is interesting because the same matter has found its was into The Guardian today as well.

Responding to suggestions elsewhere in the Murdoch press over the $12 million in question — and calling Rupert Murdoch a “gutless wonder” on account of his papers speculating over whether the “missing millions” were siphoned from CITIC to bankroll Palmer candidates — Palmer told The Guardian that “I’ve got billions of dollars. That’s where (the $12 million in election spending) came from.”

Well, quite.

The question of whether he’s a billionaire at all, as he claims — or worth somewhere more in the order of about $700 million — is yet another question about Palmer that has consumed endless thousands of column inches’ worth of conjecture in the Australian media. But I digress.

And just for good measure — and in an echo of past threats to tip the defamatory bucket over political adversaries, especially under parliamentary privilege — he threatened to reveal “the truth” about Barnett.

The problem Palmer’s account of himself to The Guardian creates is that it might close off one line of attack against him, but opens another.

If we assume the $12 million in question came out of his own pocket, and not from CITIC, it raises a question: Palmer has been repeatedly accused of spending huge sums of money to buy votes; he has also been accused of using it to effectively buy seats in Parliament by offering things to the elected representatives of other parties in his attempts to poach them, and whilst Palmer has defamation proceedings on foot against Queensland Premier Campbell Newman in this regard, the admission the money was spent at all puts him in a rather difficult position to explain away.

Irrespective of where it came from, Joe Public — that man (or woman) on the street whom Palmer has tried to bamboozle with bullshit in his lust for political relevance and representation — will have a difficult time believing that he hasn’t been out on a vote-buying spree; and even to accept that the money didn’t come from his trading partners and wasn’t intended to “buy” seats in Parliament, the appearance of a rich businessman throwing eight-figure sums of his own money at his own election campaigns is hardly representative of a charitable or philanthropic endeavour.

This remains a fact that no amount of quibbling over semantics or squabbling in Court to deter critics with the threat of litigation can change.

And that — in a nutshell — is the insoluble problem Palmer faces: his activities may invite all the publicity in the world, but sooner or later the scrutiny that accompanies it will create impressions on his audience that he doesn’t like, or want, and can’t control.

You just have to wonder at what point in the cycle all of this passes a tipping point. When that time comes, Palmer will be shown up as the political red herring he really is.



Entitlement Mentality: Greedy Palmer As Bad As Those He Demonises

FOR A MAN as wealthy as Clive Palmer is, he wants an awful lot from the system he claims he will revolutionise; for the leader of a party he says will bring people together, he seems determined to do things as they have always been done — from behind a facade of buffoonery. Palmer’s rejection of an offer of more staff on the grounds he should get even more because he says so is the latest evidence he’s no better than those he says he seeks to usurp.

I’ve noticed today that The Guardian has been making some running on the issue of staff entitlements for minor parties and Independents in the Senate, and predictably enough the subject of Clive Palmer sits at the centre of the story.

One MP short of official party status, the Abbott government has nonetheless offered the Palmer United Party an allocation of seven additional staff, which Palmer has rejected.

His reason — ostensibly — is that with four MPs (three Senators plus himself in the lower House), his “pact” with Motoring Enthusiast Senator Ricky Muir provides the fifth MP required to qualify as a party, and that as such, the additional head count offered by the government is “just bullshit.”

I wanted to talk about this tonight because whether you agree with Palmer or not, there is little question he’s been given a very easy ride to date by those who should be holding him to account: those sections of the media opposed to the Liberal Party and/or Abbott (which is a majority of the media sector) see Palmer as an additional attack dog against the reviled federal government, and are content to leave him off the leash. The ALP, sensing Palmer will do a fair portion of the heavy lifting Labor itself should be doing as the official opposition, are happy to let him go for the same reason. And mindful of the numbers in the Senate, the Coalition to date has proven reluctant to handle Palmer with anything other than kid gloves.

Whether Palmer likes it or not, his party is not entitled to more staff than it has been offered.

Rules are rules, and whatever faults those governing the entitlements of politicians may contain, they are explicit about what constitutes “a party” for funding purposes. And with four MPs rather than the requisite five, the Palmer United Party — clearly — does not.

Palmer’s claim that an exception should be made on account of his “pact” with Muir is a nonsense; Muir can of course enter into any agreement he likes when it comes to who he votes with and what he supports. But the fact remains that he is an elected member of a different political party altogether — and is not the Palmer United Party’s fifth MP.

Some might point to the Coalition in support of Palmer’s demands, but to do so is disingenuous. For one thing, the Liberal and National Parties both enjoy official party status in their own right, irrespective of whether they coalesce formally or not. For another, they share a joint allocation — something the Palmer United Party and the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party don’t even qualify for.

It does not matter what the Greens get: Palmer can rant on all he wants to about “equal treatment” and getting the same resources the Greens are allocated. But again — and as truly and deeply painful as it is to acknowledge this — the Greens have won enough seats in Parliament to qualify as “a party” as well. The Palmer United Party (despite copious bluster predicting otherwise) most emphatically have not.

And it isn’t just extra staff Palmer wants, either: he wants an allocated travel budget, too.

To date, Palmer has refused to pass any government legislation, if his party controls the balance of power, until the Abbott government meets his demands on being given more taxpayer-funded resources than it is entitled to.

His latest outburst over staffing entitlements more or less reiterates the threat, with his stated refusal to “negotiate with this government on anything.”

In other words, Palmer gets what he wants, with the implicit threat that he will bring government to a standstill if he doesn’t. And worse, what he’s after is more of the same things most voters are fed up with in the first place — endless staff numbers, travel entitlements, and so forth.

Yet in my view, this isn’t merely about who gets how many staff, and whether or not they are entitled to them; rather, it continues to paint the picture — for those not mesmerised by the simpleton buffoonery Palmer engages in as part of his populist protest crusade — of a leader and a party that are as bad (if not worse) than much of what they rail against so vocally.

Palmer’s position on repealing the carbon tax — a policy that unquestionably received a huge electoral mandate — is that he will support the measure provided it’s made retrospective, putting his own companies in line to receive refunds of at least $6 million.

He made a big show in Canberra yesterday about having himself driven to Parliament privately in a vintage Rolls Royce, saying it was the thing to do for MPs to reduce their burden on taxpayers. Yet the same day the stunt received wide press coverage, here he is asking for a travel budget for his party: just the thing to appeal to people in the wake of last year’s scandal over travel entitlements.

The sum effect of his belligerent and hostile rhetoric toward the government is an underlying intention to do everything he can to cripple it: not only will this do wonders to engender faith in the political class among those so disillusioned with politics as to have no faith in it at all, but this is the politics of the thug and the bully, not of a truly collegiate leader in the mould his party’s rhetoric tries to paint him.

And any doubt on that point should be dispelled by the fact that Palmer has made at least one credible attempt to silence those who really know what he’s like — his staff — that made headlines last year, as he sought to gag staff at his Palmer Coolum Resort from making any comment on the record at all about him (the move failed, of course, and the picture that emerged from the episode was, predictably, one of a thug, a bully, and a tyrant).

As an aside, I don’t think too many watchers of politics will disagree at all that the primary purpose of the Palmer United Party appears to be revenge: to inflict as much damage on the Coalition as possible, and however they phrase such sentiments in Queensland to evade the litigious Palmer and his defamation actions, the link between the seven-figure donations he made to the National Party and the LNP in Queensland (and the fact he didn’t get what he wanted out of that state’s LNP government) seem directly related to the creation of his eponymous party and its appetite for fighting against the Coalition.

We could go on, but the simple truth is that Palmer is no better than the litany of wrongs in politics he claims to want to right; and, by his words and actions to date, is no better than those he has sought to demonise to even get elected to Parliament in the first place.

Having “a revolution” and “bringing Australians together” is not going to occur by telling everyone what’s wrong with the system — and immediately doing the same thing once you’re part of it.

Palmer should be told: tell your story walking. You’re not entitled to the staff, so stop asking for them. You’re not being given any special favours, and to decline the request is not victimisation. The Palmer United Party is entitled to what it has been offered. Not more, not less.

The Coalition’s response to what amounts to an ultimatum from Palmer will be fascinating.

I genuinely think it should stand up to him: after all, Palmer isn’t going to do Abbott any favours, and whatever ground he does give will come with so many strings and conditions attached as to ensure the only interests really served by caving in to him are Palmer’s.

I agree with one element of popular criticism of politics as it is practised in Canberra: it’s too clubby, too chummy, and there is too much banding together and scratching of backs — even of otherwise sworn foes — that goes on instead of giving the proverbial finger to vested interests even if it comes at the price of political pain. Capitulating to Palmer will only reinforce that particular sentiment out in voterland and again, the only person who stands to gain in such a scenario is Palmer himself.

Standing up to Palmer might even yield a dividend to the government: it can rightly claim in doing so that it’s not doing anyone any favours, that there aren’t exceptions to the rules, and that no-one — not even someone holding a gun at the government’s head — is above them.

But to do so, the government’s marketing and communications people would have to counter the certain barrage of media activity such a stand would elicit from the Palmer bunker, and let’s be honest: anything to do with sales and marketing where its activities are concerned is one area in which the Abbott government has — to date — been an abject and unmitigated failure.



Hamilton-Smith: Weasel Words Of A Political Prostitute

A TREACHEROUS DOG posing as a champion of “people” becomes the most objectionable and contemptible specimen ever discussed in this column tonight, with former SA Liberal leader Martin Hamilton-Smith selling out his electorate and his party — and whatever dubious principles he might have held — to take a ministry in the minority Labor state government. Whatever else Hamilton-Smith might be, he is a political whore — no more.

First things first: I’m not going to pretend not to be affronted by what has happened in Adelaide today, with a former Liberal Party leader (and someone this column once backed to lead again) jumping the fence to form an alliance with the Labor Party; it’s one thing to have the odd difference with your party, but to shit on it altogether from a great height is the lowest form of political treachery imaginable. I am, to be entirely candid, absolutely seething over it.

Even so, Hamilton-Smith’s own words will largely form the basis for my comments tonight; those readers who aren’t across his defection can, depending on preference, access the Fairfax version or the Murdoch version to catch up on the day’s events.

For once, the only really blameless party in all of this is the ALP; who could blame Premier Jay Weatherill — in minority government by virtue of an election that surprised only in that Labor retained government at all — from seeking out a disloyal and untrustworthy opposition MP to ascertain whether or not they were for sale?

After all — as the Fairfax press has noted — Weatherill “reached out” to Hamilton-Smith in the wake of the March state election, and in a brazen act of political harlotry the former Liberal leader has proven he was astutely selected indeed.

Labor would be celebrating its coup, and again, who could blame it? It is important to emphasise this in no way confers any legitimacy or additional authority on the South Australian state government, irrespective of the wild and fanciful claims that will surely ensue.

But it does buy Labor additional stability, and the exercise shows if nothing else that some sections of the ALP at least have learned the lessons of the chaotic Gillard experiment after all.

That said, it is barely nine weeks since the regrettable Hamilton-Smith was re-elected to his safe Liberal seat of Waite on the back of a campaign conducted by the South Australian division of the Liberal Party, bankrolled by the Liberal Party’s corporate donors and the generosity of its members at a local level, and conducted on the ground by Liberal Party branch members in Hamilton-Smith’s own electorate.

55% of the 23,000 voters in Waite cast a first preference vote for Hamilton-Smith, with his two-party share sitting well over 60%; it might be indelicate to point it out but the Labor candidate in Waite barely did better than a quarter of the vote — a clear hint as to how keen Hamilton-Smith’s constituents are on the idea of Labor government in the first place.

Those voters would be justified in being very, very pissed off with their local MP right now, and whilst I would never advocate or condone anything criminal it is to be hoped they make the remainder of his tenure as miserable and as problematic for him as possible.

Unlike two federal MPs who sold conservative electorates down the river to jump into the trough with Julia Gillard, Hamilton-Smith can’t even offer the excuse he was elected as an Independent. He wasn’t.

The political importance of what Hamilton-Smith has done should not be overstated; after all, actual Independent Geoff Brock had already taken it upon himself to disregard the clear wishes of a majority of South Australians as expressed at the ballot box to keep Labor in office in the first place, and in the absence of fellow Independent Bob Such Brock now has a new trainee lackey to indulge on the crossbench.

Clearly, today’s events do not change the political complexion of South Australia’s Parliament.

They do, however, change Hamilton-Smith’s pay packet: to the tune of tens of thousands of additional dollars at taxpayer expense (about $2,300 extra per week, I’m told) for a job he was not elected to, and in support of a party in office that the overwhelming majority of his own constituents rejected.

Who does Martin Hamilton-Smith therefore represent?


A greedy, disloyal, self-obsessed specimen, whose indecent and jaundiced concept of “service” is to seek and obtain re-election for a fixed four-year term on a false premise.

But we should at least account for some of the treacherous justifications he saw fit to offer this afternoon — the weasel words of a political prostitute quite literally caught in the act.

Hamilton-Smith has said he considered his decision very carefully; not carefully enough, it seems, to prevent him standing for the Liberal Party barely two months ago.

He claimed “it was time” to “put people before politics” which begs a rather obvious question: which people? His constituents? The 45% of South Australians who cast primary votes for the Liberal Party? The 53% whose votes favoured the Liberals statewide after preferences?

No, what Hamilton-Smith really meant was that it was time to put himself before the people who elected him — they, of course, had served their useful purpose.

He said he spoke to opposition leader Steven Marshall to “explain his position.” Good for him. Did that salve his conscience at all?

Now, he says, he is focused on “making a contribution” and I’m sorry — the only contribution Hamilton-Smith is interested in is the extra contribution the South Australian Treasury will now make to his bank balance.

“At the end of the day,” he pompously claimed, “(MPs) are all (in Parliament) to serve” and he felt best able to do that as part of the government: any way the wind blows is fine, it seems; principle, loyalty and actually standing for something be damned.

And some might even be tempted to feel for the poor bastard; he even had the nerve to lament that his decision to jump into the gravy train had been tough, but — his reputation now so besmirched by his own hand as to be unfit to spit on — he also had the temerity to evaluate the choice to do so as “the right decision.”

For once one will say something nice about Peter Slipper; he made few bones about the fact he simply wanted to be Speaker when he jumped overboard from the Coalition in 2012. Yes, the party was well rid of him. Yes, he tried to suggest he was “eminently qualified” to be Speaker, which was debatable, although he did dabble in a bit of attempted salesmanship of the role.

But Slipper, at least, didn’t try to hide behind this degree of absolute bullshit to justify himself.

The upshot of all of this is that Hamilton-Smith will undeservedly make a lot more money out of the taxpayer, for four years, courtesy of voters in his electorate who were explicit in their desire to have no part in the government their local MP now proposes to prop up in office and work to make a political success.

This is a despicable, disgraceful move by someone who is a political prostitute, no more; and despite Hamilton-Smith guaranteeing by his actions that he will never again be elected to the South Australian Parliament or anywhere else, he deserves every skerrick of the odium, the rancour, and the vitriolic bile he is likely to be hit with from now until the end of his term in 2018.

Yes, the Liberal Party is well rid of such a bag of shit, although that’s only half the point.

South Australians — and his constituents — remain lumbered with the bastard for another four years.

There is nothing worse than a treacherous dog. There is nothing lower than whale shit on the ocean floor. Yet Hamilton-Smith has confirmed for all to see that he is worse, and lower, than both.


Budget Bickering: An Island Of Reality

WHILE THE GRIND of post-budget machinations continues apace, the hysteria whipped up by Bill Shorten and his cohorts at the Communist Party Greens ignores a basic and central truth that the Abbott government has failed to adequately capitalise on; namely, that despite the fury the Left seeks to fuel over “broken” promises, the government has an explicit mandate for its budget. Today, a rare island of reality has appeared in its defence.

Many readers of a similar Generation X vintage to myself will recall the late 1980s giggle movie The Adventures Of Ford Fairlane and perhaps its only memorable line, when crooked record industry identity Julian Grendel greets Fairlane by saying “Hello, Ford. I must say you’re an island of reality in an ocean of diarrhoea.”

I simply couldn’t get that line out of my head this morning whilst reading Terry McCrann’s article in today’s edition of the Herald Sun, and as obscure a lead-in to my remarks as it might seem, a silly gag from a dumb movie is surprisingly apt given the volume of execrable rubbish the ALP and Shorten specifically have uttered since budget night.

McCrann highlights one of the central premises of the Coalition’s campaign for government last year, and whilst some (including myself, admittedly) have taken issue with aspects of its enactment, the budget delivered by Joe Hockey certainly matches the brief.

That, namely, is that there were three big, overarching promises made by Tony Abbott: one, to “stop the boats;” two, to “axe the (carbon) tax;” and three, to fix the budget mess painstakingly and wilfully crafted on Labor’s watch by the most uselessly incompetent Treasurer ever to hold that post in Australian political history, Wayne Swan.

The flow of asylum seeker boats has indeed been halted; in fact, nine of the government’s detention centres are now slated for closure, with the dreadful spectre of more than a thousand needless deaths at sea relegated to the past tense, and savings to taxpayers of almost $5bn the most immediate and noteworthy consequences.

As for the others, a hostile Senate controlled for now by Labor and the Greens, and from 1 July by a crossbench led by Clive Palmer — who seems hellbent on inflicting as much damage on the Coalition as possible — hold the key to their fate.

Palmer, despite his apparent revenge mentality where the Liberals and Nationals are concerned, wants the carbon tax abolished; it’s prejudicial to his business interests, and has already cost him millions of dollars in imposts he clearly deems unreasonable.

But Palmer’s ultimate support for the repeal of the tax is laced with an increasing and contradictory list of demands, and nobody can predict the outcome with any certainty at this point.

Yet the third promise — to fix the budget mess — is arguably the most important.

I’m not going to bog down today in a dissection of Labor’s dumb justifications based on OECD comparisons: we all know that because debt is lower today than it is in Europe that Labor is trying to hoodwink voters that it was competent at managing the books. It wasn’t.

In fact, if it was worth a pinch of the proverbial, it wouldn’t have made more than 500 explicit promises to table a budget surplus that it never met.

Left unchecked, Australia will be right in the middle of the Eurotrash pack within a decade: that’s the true indicator of Labor’s economic competence, and the fundamental dishonesty that underpins Shorten’s words every time he tries to suggest otherwise.

It is too trite, too smug, and too clever by half for Shorten to now wipe his hands of that fact on the ALP’s behalf, and not least because Swan’s last couple of budgets were almost explicitly designed to lace the post-election Treasury road with the landmines Abbott and Treasurer Joe Hockey are now fighting to navigate.

Yet viewed one way, the outrage brigade is applying itself to Hockey’s budget in the same way it applies itself to anything the Liberal Party advocates: good or bad, in the best interests of the country or not, and irrespective of whether it is publicly supported.

Nobody — least of all Abbott and Hockey — suggests everything in the budget will be wildly popular and it goes without saying that some of its measures will hurt some people.

But it is also the truth that not only is the pain from those measures well spread — despite sensationalist grandstanding to the contrary — but that some come with inbuilt limitations and/or discretionary waivers to ensure those least able to afford them are not hit the hardest.

Perhaps the most telling point McCrann makes is that by 2017-18 — not that far away — with expenditure cuts of $15 billion and an increased tax take of $20 billion thanks to bracket creep, that year’s budget will still be in deficit despite a turnaround in the books in that year alone of $35 billion.

Let’s be clear: that $35 billion is a figure that would go directly onto the ballooning pile of national debt that didn’t even exist when Kevin Rudd won in 2007, and which already stands at $350 billion today.

It is also a direct result of Labor’s own economic management “prowess.”

No budget emergency? I think not.

Perception and reality are so often wildly divergent, and it is the case with this budget that as devilishly as Shorten and his ilk portray it, its actual effects will almost certainly be mild by comparison.

Warts and all, this budget deserves to be passed; the government was elected to govern, not to have the legislative requirements of meeting its overriding commitments gutted and thwarted.

If the reality proves as bad as Shorten and others claim, the Liberals will be booted from office in a little over two years’ time, and the defeat will take many years to recover from.

Yet Labor cares only about power, not people; so blind and blithe is its lust to resume power at the earliest opportunity it would rather mortgage the country to the tune of hundreds of billions of additional dollars, ensuring the damage from its last stint in office cannot be undone, than to let those who were elected to do so get on with it.

The McCrann article makes a lot of good common sense. A deep breath and a reality check ought to halt the hysteria being whipped up by those with vested interests on the Left. Which is why — just like the “rock’n’roll detective” — his words, today, are an island of reality in a sea of diarrhoea.



Free Drug Trafficking Immigrant? Shorten Must Fire Burke

IN WHAT RANKS as one of the most brazen acts of political stupidity in some time, ALP frontbencher Tony Burke last month wrote to Immigration minister Scott Morrison “on behalf of a constituent” who sought the release of her partner: a serial importer and distributor of narcotics, who arrived in 2000 on a three-month visa, who has avoided deportation ever since. The drug peddler should be deported. Burke should either resign or be sacked.

At the outset, let me be emphatic: whilst I will take aim at an absolute grub in today’s column, my remarks should in no way be seen as reflective on all immigrants, asylum seekers, or others who arrive in this country, although with incidents like this one it’s not hard to see why the anti-immigration crowd has so little trouble attracting fresh disciples.

The story of convicted Nigerian drug trafficker Drichuckuv Nweke — reported today in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph — would be laughable were it not so serious; how the apparent sequence of events has culminated in its article today is unbelievable, and would do any eminent writer of fiction credit had they penned the story themselves.

Readers can see the Tele‘s article here, and it’s immediately obvious to me that Labor “leader” Bill Shorten must sack Tony Burke if he won’t go voluntarily.

If there are grounds in Australian law to permit someone who illegally overstayed a visa, was convicted of importing 5kg of cocaine and 140kg of ice, and was able to rack up a multitude of drink driving offences to avoid deportation, then Immigration minister Scott Morrison’s first job this morning should be to draft amendments to the relevant legislation and to have Nweke thrown out of Australia at the earliest possible date.

There is no defensible argument to suggest that a filthy specimen who peddles illicit drugs at will (and whilst imprisoned for his crimes, no less) should be permitted to remain in Australia for a moment longer than it takes to get rid of him, and if the compassion-babbling, chardonnay-swilling bullshit brigade and other bleeding hearts on the Left have a problem with that statement, then I really couldn’t care less.

I think there are community standards that frown — rightly — on those who profit from human misery, injury and death, and anyone who doesn’t believe these substances lead to such consequences should go and talk to any accident and emergency doctor, who will quickly set them straight.

In truth, the fact this guy is a foreign national should offer one very big positive — the ability to throw him out of Australia and rid the place of one more drug baron. Instead, Nweke appears to have been able to stave off deportation for more than a decade whilst simultaneously serving jail time for drug offences and committing new ones, and far from it being a legal victory for Nweke that he has been able to do so, it’s a national outrage that there are grounds in law to uphold his appeals and delay — apparently indefinitely — the one-way, permanent ticket back to Africa he so richly deserves.

The story that Nweke has sought release at the behest of his partner — among other things because she has health problems and is concerned about the welfare of their young son — should be the least of Immigration officials’ concerns.

But the intervention in this of Burke — who claimed his letter did not amount to making representations on the woman’s behalf, despite the excerpt published in the Tele suggesting in the clearest manner possible that it did — is unfathomable.

Some will accuse me of being hard-hearted in saying so, but the punishment of a drug trafficker (and a seemingly major one at that) is a higher priority for Commonwealth law enforcement agencies than the welfare of his partner and their son.

More to the point, and were it required, some form of care and/or assistance could be arranged for the partner (and her son) and the drug thug deported; these are mutually exclusive considerations. It is not necessary for the drug thug to be released “into Community Detention.” Frankly, if they feel so strongly about it, then they can go with him too.

Community detention — as an aside — is no more than a slap on the wrist, in relative terms, for a recidivist drug criminal, and in the context of a case such as this the prospect of it is a national outrage.

Yet Burke, who is spoken of in some circles as a potential future Labor leader, seems to have waded into this controversy without due regard to either the gravity of the offences in question or the expectations of the wider Australian community he serves.

He has shown incompetence (to say nothing of an appalling lack of judgement) and he should resign.

If he won’t, then Bill Shorten must sack him from Labor’s front bench.

Life is rich in irony, and political life especially so; just as the Shorten-“led” ALP is making merry hell trying to rip Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministership apart by the most questionable of means, along comes a test of its own mettle and its own loftily proclaimed standards.

If Burke hasn’t left the Labor frontbench by the end of the day — preferably with the print from one of Shorten’s boots firmly implanted on his backside to make the point emphatic — then this will be yet another instance of Labor’s prescriptions of high moral standards for others that it, itself, falls drastically short of upholding.

The Tele was right: Kelvin Thomson, then Labor’s shadow Attorney-General, was forced to resign some years ago after writing a reference for another drug fugitive — Tony Mokbel. And the point that the Thomson episode should have served as a warning to all MPs is well made, albeit obviously not heeded in this case.

This country does not need to be importing drug problems from other countries, and not least when the offending miscreant’s presence here was never really legal in the first place: a three-month visa is precisely that, and 13 years on he’s still here. A spousal visa might have solved some of Nweke’s woes, but even that was cancelled three years ago following one of his convictions, and now Morrison must see to it that Nweke is booted out as quickly (and as ruthlessly) as possible.

As for Burke, Australia doesn’t need parliamentary representatives whose actions show any form of tolerance toward the likes of Nweke.

Thomson paid a high price over the Mokbel incident. For his stupidity, it is now time for Burke to suffer the same fate.



All In The Family: Now Labor Attacks Abbott’s Wife

APPARENTLY NOT CONTENT with its despicable attack on Tony Abbott’s daughter over a scholarship she won — nor, it seems, with savaging the employment of her sister in a job a Labor government appointed her to — Labor has charted new depths of moral nihilism today, with reports Margie Abbott has been castigated for “not doing charity work.” Labor’s hunger to destroy Abbott is boundless. Its use of his family shows just how unfit for office it is.

With the exception of demanding to know why he should be allowed to use a government vehicle for private business without consequence, when the likes of renegade Victorian MP Geoff Shaw faced prosecution* — cheered on by the ALP — for doing the same thing, this column has had very little to say about the so-called former “first bloke,” Tim Mathieson.

Whilst I went to pains at times to point out that Julia Gillard deserved to be treated with a few basic human decencies — despite the fact I absolutely detest the former Prime Minister, her politics, and pretty much everything she stands for — I would never have dreamed of using her family as political ammunition, and have been emphatic that the private lives of politicians, and their families in particular, should be regarded by all comers as strictly off-limits when it comes to such endeavours.

I’m yet to meet a genuinely decent individual on either side of the political divide who disagrees with that assessment: the pollies are fair game, but when it comes to their (unelected) families, trying to load them into the gun is an absolute no-no.

Yet once again, the Labor Party has thumbed its nose at decency and principle, choosing instead to engage in one of the lowest forms of gutter politics imaginable; this time Mathieson is the instrument it has used to engage in a vile personal attack on the Prime Minister’s wife, which is as contemptible as it is misplaced.

Readers can access the article being carried in today’s editions of Murdoch publications here, and it’s actually rather sad to note that a spokesperson from the Prime Minister’s office has seen fit to have to provide an account of Mrs Abbott’s charitable activities, or to have been placed in a position where one is required at all.

This comes a matter of days after the Abbotts’ 22-year-old daughter, Frances, was hauled through the media over a scholarship she had won in the course of studying for her career; there has not been, to date, a shred of evidence to suggest the attack on her was based on any impropriety, and knowing too well what the Labor Party is like, if any such evidence existed at all, it would have been used the instant Frances was first targeted.

The ink had barely dried on those reports when another attack — aimed at Frances’ older sister, Louise — sprang into public view; claims that (unnamed) Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade staff were “annoyed” that Louise Abbott was working at the Australian embassy in Geneva can really only have emanated from once source: the guttersnipes and dirt shovellers of the ALP.

It’s ironic, given Louise was appointed to her job during the tenure of the Labor government her father subsequently defeated, but never mind that — Labor has shown repeatedly in recent years that it doesn’t allow facts or hypocrisy to interfere with the kind of vicious personal onslaught it is clearly conducting against the Abbott family.

Some readers will recall that back in 2012, Abbott’s youngest daughter, Bridget, served as the Face of Sydney’s Autumn Racing Carnival, and even with a role as seemingly innocuous as that, there were suggestions of nepotism and political interference levelled at Tony Abbott by his opponents: there was no way Bridget could have secured a gig like that without her father pulling a few strings, they sneered.

Now — with Margie Abbott apparently falling foul of the Labor attack for being “uncharitable” — the Abbotts have set a dubious new record in Australian politics; for the first time in this country’s history, every member of the first family has been deliberately and explicitly targeted by the ALP on a personal level in furtherance of its political objectives.

The lack of any acceptable standards should surprise nobody. After all, this is the same Labor Party that attempted to salvage its prospects prior to the 2012 state election in Queensland by publicly defaming the wife of LNP leader Campbell Newman, yet was happy to accommodate convicted fraudster Craig Thomson and filthy misogynistic grub Peter Slipper when it suited its purposes.

Mathieson, no doubt, would plead that his remarks against Margie Abbott were made of his own volition. He would. But such a claim is disingenuous, and in light of the rapid succession of Abbott daughters being subjected to similar attacks from other sections of the ALP, to suggest the anti-Abbott vendetta is unco-ordinated defies credulity.

But even if such a claim by Mathieson were true, it would be tantamount to an admission that he’s simply behaving like a Ritalin-starved attention addict, denied the publicity and attention that went with being the Prime Minister’s companion, and lashing out just because he can out of spite. Such a reality would be little better, and at the very least reveal Mathieson to be an unmitigated liability.

So which is it?

As far as I’m concerned, all roads lead to Labor on this; it’s too much of a coincidence to suggest that brutal attacks against three members of the Prime Minister’s family, in the same week, are anything other than a systemic and deliberate campaign.

What it does raise is a telling question: if Labor is so sure of its political strategies against Abbott the Prime Minister — and if it’s so sure its wilful obfuscation of the federal budget, and newfound creativity over its own record of managerial competence, are solid — why does it need to resort to the kind of savagery these personal attacks are tantamount to?

From a purely political perspective, I know there’s a way for the government to turn its budget — warts and all — to its advantage, even if present indications are that its own advisors don’t. Perhaps the ALP realises it too. Whether it does or not, this consideration in no way justifies what it is doing, and it certainly doesn’t make such abominable tactics acceptable or palatable.

The families of politicians should be left alone; if they put their head above the parapet of public life they’re fair game, of course.

But Tony Abbott’s daughters are simply going about their business and have done nothing to warrant the scrutiny the ALP has maliciously focused on them, and his wife — a worthier claimant to a record of solid community service than a midget like Mathieson will ever be — is almost beyond reproach in the context of the accusations Mathieson, by proxy, has levelled against her at some greasy spiv’s behest.

The reality, very simply, is that Labor is an amoral machine; it cares about power, not people; and to the extent the ALP has any genuine interest in people at all, it’s to ascertain how they might serve the party’s ruthless pursuit of political muscle, and then to abandon them.

If I were Mathieson, I’d be feeling a bit miffed to have been gullible enough to have been used as a cat’s paw in an enterprise that is inexcusable, but then again, I wouldn’t be stupid enough to go along with such a ridiculous scheme that so clearly leaps the fence into the realm of what is completely unacceptable political practice.

Bill Shorten — as “leader” of the ALP — owes Mrs Abbott an apology on behalf of his party; the fact she won’t get one is as much a mark of the man as it is an indictment on the God-forsaken outfit he “leads.”

As for Mathieson, the less said the better; we can treat him, and his words, with the contempt they deserve.

But ordinary Australians would do well to remember the events of this week, and to mark them down as an illustration of why Labor cannot be trusted to put people ahead of its addiction to power. There will be plenty of other examples to dispel any doubts over whether this week might have been an isolated misjudgement.

It wasn’t. And that I can assure readers with absolute certainty.


*Charges against Geoff Shaw were ultimately withdrawn.